Playing games in school used to have a negative connotation. Thankfully that’s not the case anymore. As a teacher you know that keeping young learners engaged can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to new educational games your students can feel like they are playing a game while you can be comfortable knowing that they’re sticking to your lesson plan and the wider curriculum.
In this blog post we’re going to explore educational games for elementary teachers, including their benefits, the types of games available, how to incorporate games in your classroom, and more. Ready to level-up your student engagement and learning? Then let’s dive in!
The Benefits of Educational Games in the Classroom
Educational games can be a game-changer for your classroom by making learning enjoyable, giving students the ability to see progress in real-time, and by fostering a positive learning environment. Through play, collaboration, and personalized experiences, educational games can capture students’ imagination and keep them engaged in the learning process.
Some additional benefits of educational games include:
- Developing problem solving skills for students
- Providing a safe-space for experimentation
- Cultivating a growth mindset
Benefits of educational games also extend beyond the classroom as many teachers, parents, and administrators saw during the COVID-19 pandemic where digital game-based learning became a trusted option for remote learning.
These benefits aren’t just the wishful thinking of students - there’s solid data behind them. According to one study, using games can help you increase student participation, motivate students to take risks, and foster emotional learning. All while the students are engaged - a win-win! Other recent research has shown that educational games can even improve attitudes toward learning in addition to academic scores. With data like this it’s not hard to see why nearly 75% of teachers use game-based learning in their classrooms.
Types of Educational Games for Elementary Teachers
Take a moment to picture the students in your classroom playing an educational game. Whatever you pictured is probably a great example because there are so many different types of games to try. These games typically fall into one of three categories: Digital games, board games, and physical games.
Each type of game has pros and cons so let’s take a look at them all below.
These types of educational games include apps and online platforms that can be played on laptops or tablets. Digital games can cover a variety of topics including math, literature, and science in addition to helping build foundational learning skills like critical and logical thinking.
Pros of digital games
Digital educational games are very engaging with their design and gamification which help reinforce key learning concepts. These types of games also often are self-paced which helps facilitate differentiated learning in the classroom by allowing students to learn at their own speed. Because these games are accessed through laptops or tablets, it’s easy to incorporate them through a technology classroom learning center.
Digital games, compared to the other types of games, are the only type of educational game that work well with remote learning. These games also can offer assignments, lesson plans, and curriculum integration to help you seamlessly weave a game into your classroom routine.
Cons of digital games
While it’s easy to use these types of educational games if your classroom has laptops or tablets, if your classroom is tech-free it’ll be hard for you to use digital games. If you’re interested in bringing more technology into your classroom but don’t have the funds or administrative support, consider looking into technology grants.
Examples of digital games
Kodable is a great example of a digital educational game that helps introduce students to the basics of computer programming in a fun and engaging way. Accessible on iPads and laptops, Kodable helps students build critical thinking skills while fostering their digital literacy skills. Plus, you don’t have to become a STEM or computer science expert to help build these important skills in students. Kodable offers a free educator plan for you to get started and bring Kodable into your classroom today.
Board games offer students a tangible and tactile experience that also helps foster social skills for games that require more than one student to play.
Pros of board games
Educational board games help students build emotional and social skills through fostering teamwork and collaboration to reach a common objective or goal.
Cons of board games
Board games can take up a lot of space and include small pieces. These both can become problematic for a teacher low on storage space or who is used to dealing with students prone to losing or misplacing items. If you lose too many game pieces all you are left with is a colorful piece of cardboard! One way to counter this is to make sure you have a place for everything and offer incentives for students or groups who can return everything to their rightful place at the end of an activity.
Examples of board games
Scrabble, Bingo, and even Monopoly can be simplified to be used in elementary classrooms and help achieve desired learning outcomes.
See our post on STEM board games to see even more examples of board games you can bring into your elementary classroom!
Physical games provide students with hands-on and kinesthetic learning opportunities which can also create very engaging and educational experiences.
Pros of physical games
Physical games can help make learning “real” for students by showing them real world applications and uses for classroom material. For many students a volcanic eruption in class is not only an introduction to science but a way that students begin to understand the world around them. This can help students be more interested in their learning, more inquisitive, and promote problem solving.
Cons of physical games
Compared to digital and board games, physical games require the most upfront setup and explanation. This means more prep work for you to stage a game and then more time for teardown and cleanup. Also compared to other types of games, physical games don’t have as long of a shelf-life (pun intended) because these types of games are often only done once and don’t have a recurring benefit for students to come back to time and time again.
Examples of physical games
Scavenger hunts, role playing games, and science experiments are three examples of common physical games for elementary school students.
How to Choose Educational Games for Your Elementary Classroom
When it comes to bringing educational games into your classroom you want to consider how games will align with your curriculum, teaching goals, and your students’ needs. Here’s a five step process to help you clearly define how to choose games and incorporate them into your classroom:
- Define your teaching goals: What specific concepts or skills do you want students to learn or be reinforced? First identify the learning outcomes you want students to achieve through the use of an educational game.
- Research and evaluate games: Now that you know what you want students to learn or reinforce, research games that match up with your goals. To do this you can research online, ask your teaching peers and colleagues, or use online teaching forums or groups. Once you have found potential games consider reading reviews or checking for endorsements from national groups to ensure games are up to par. Many online games like Kodable offer free versions for teachers so be sure to try out your game before introducing it to your class.
- Align learning outcomes with student needs: Now that you have your goals and a game to match, be sure to sync your plan with the needs of your students. This can involve making any accommodations or adjustments necessary for the game to help all of your students achieve the desired learning outcome.
- Integrate game into your lesson plan: Next integrate your game selection into your lesson plans. This includes clearly communicating learning objectives, instructions, and expectations to your students as well as your plan to provide additional guidance during the game if necessary. We’ll dive more into this topic in the next section.
- Monitor and adjust as necessary: Once you start your game lesson, monitor how it is going and what, if any, adjustments you need to make for next time. Did set up take too long? Were students confused about any portion of the game? Did they meet the objectives you outlined? These are good review questions to consider anytime after you try a game for the first time to note where you can improve for next time.
Integrating Educational Games into Your Lesson Plans
It’s all fun and games (and learning) for students but as their teacher you have to seamlessly fit educational games into your overarching curriculum and lesson plans. Here are a few ways to get started.
Align games with curriculum standards and learning objectives
Identify specific concepts, skills, or content areas that your game addresses and ensure they are relevant to your overall curriculum. Clearly communicate the learning objectives to your students before and during gameplay to provide context and purpose.
Scaffold learning using pre and post-game discussions
Before starting the game, you can ask students what they think will happen in the game, how they think the activity will go, or more specific questions that tie the game into your learning objectives. After gameplay, using post-game reflections is a great way to have students reflect on their experience and make connections to real-life situations or other content areas.
Assess learning outcomes
Use teacher assessment tools to gauge students' learning outcomes from the educational games. This can include formative assessments during the game for a quick check on how students are grasping concepts or summative assessments afterward including exit tickets or quick one-minute writing summaries.
Make a plan but be flexible
Consider logistics such as time allocation, groupings, and resources when integrating educational games into your lessons. Save time for the game, pre-game discussions, and post-game reflections. Ensure that necessary resources, such as devices, game materials, and internet access, are available and accessible for students.
Provide clear instructions and expectations
Clearly communicate instructions and expectations to students before and during gameplay. Provide guidance on how to navigate the game, use game features, and achieve the learning objectives. Set expectations for behavior, participation, and collaboration during gameplay. Be sure to monitor progress and provide support as needed to any students who need more help.
Reflect, review, and improve
After your game lesson, reflect on how the activity helped meet curriculum objectives and learning goals. Because there are a lot of moving parts in an elementary classroom, it's best to try to dedicate time to remind yourself to reflect after any new classroom activity so you can process the experience while it is still fresh in your mind. Even if it’s just a quick stream of consciousness in a journal between periods, reflection can help you better prepare your lesson for the next class.
Overcoming Common Challenges and Concerns with Educational Games
Sometimes when parents or administrators hear that your students are playing games in the classroom, there can be a misunderstanding. To help alleviate this and other common challenges to bringing educational games into your classroom, we’ve compiled a list of common concerns and practical solutions to them.
Resistance from parents
Some parents may see games in the classroom as "just games" and not serious learning activities. To help overcome these objections, share information about the educational games being used, their alignment with curriculum objectives, and the positive impact on student learning outcomes. Usually seeing how excited students are about an activity is a great way to alleviate parent concerns.
Concerns about screen time
For digital games, you may face concerns about screen time and its potential impact on students' health. You can overcome these objections by setting clear guidelines and limits on screen time during digital games.
Integrating educational games into lesson plans may require additional planning and organization. Plan ahead to ensure that the necessary resources, such as devices, game materials, or physical spaces, are available and accessible. Set clear guidelines on how to use and handle the game materials, devices, or other resources.
Recommended Educational Games for Elementary Teachers
Here at Kodable we’ve been in the digital educational game space for over a decade. With that level of experience we’ve come across a number of educational games that could be a great addition to your classroom management strategy. Below are some recommendations for you to try out.
Kodable helps you introduce students to the basics of computer programming with a fun and engaging game. Students learn logical and critical thinking skills while playing through self-paced levels and exploring the online world of fuzztopia! Kodable is great for Kindergarten through 5th graders and offers a free educator plan for you to bring it into your classroom today.
Teach your monster is a non-profit organization that offers games to help students with reading, math, and numbers. These games are great for PreK through 1st grade.
SplashLearn has math and ELA games for PreK through 5th graders. These games also come with a designed curriculum to help you integrate games into your lesson plans. Teachers can sign up for a free account to try it out.
Prodigy helps students practice standards-aligned skills in math and english in fun and adaptive learning games. Prodigy Math can be used for grades 1-8 while Prodigy English is best suited for grades 1-6 and is curriculum aligned to common core reading, language and writing standards.
Code.org helps students in middle and school learn computer science through a rigorous online curriculum, activities, challenges, and games. Activities are organized by grade level to help you find the right game to bring into your classroom.
Frequently asked questions
Do educational games help kids?
The short answer is - yes! Educational games help students by making learning more fun and engaging which can lead to better learning outcomes. One study found that games helped increase student motivation. More motivated students are more likely to engage and retain subject material, especially if a game presents said material in a unique way. So it’s all fun and games until your students are learning more with the help of games.
Are educational games for students easy to understand and play?
Most educational games are easy to play and understand for both you and your students. Often games come with instructions or a preview to allow you to fully understand and anticipate what the students will see and do to help avoid any misunderstandings or confusion once the game starts. Kodable, for example, has a teacher demo mode that allows you to personally play every level beforehand so you can see exactly what students will see. These previews plus any supplemental lesson plans or materials from games ensure that your students will have fun while learning without any hiccups along the way.
How can I make teaching fun through online games?
There are a number of ways to make teaching fun for your students and online games are a great place to start. Online games help motivate students to participate in activities which leads to more engagement and less boredom. These types of activities also are self-paced which allow students to be just challenged enough to continue playing without being too boring to stop or too frustrating to cause students to quit. In this way, online games make teaching fun by continuously engaging your students with the right difficulty level for their skills. These online games are not to be confused with gamification in education, which involves using game-like elements to make learning more enjoyable and also more effective.
Educational games provide numerous benefits for teachers and students alike. These include making learning enjoyable and engaging, fostering collaboration and teamwork, developing problem-solving skills, providing a safe space for experimentation, and cultivating a growth mindset.
With the availability of different types of games available it’s important that you choose the best fit for your classroom and curriculum needs. While each type of game has its pros and cons, the benefits of incorporating educational games into the classroom are evident, as supported by research and the increasing number of teachers who use game-based learning. So why wait? Level-up your student engagement and learning with educational games today!
Looking to start using an educational game today? Try out Kodable’s free educator plan to help teach your students the basics of computer programming in a fun, self-paced learning game.